Native American Horse Culture: Looking at the change in culture the horse brought to the Blackfoot, Cheyenne and Comanche tribes.

Seminar Paper, 2003

17 Pages, Grade: 2,0 (B)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Overview

3.1. Blackfoot
3.2. Cheyenne
3.3. Comanche

4. Result and Outlook

5. Works Cited

Map of the Great Plains
Horse-Trade Map

1. Introduction

There are about as many legends, myths and clichés in Native American culture as there are tribes on the North American continent. All “redskins” are either “noble savages” or “brutal animals” and they are all living in teepees. In war times the “war hatchet” gets dugged out and with “war painting” on their face and bow and arrows in their hands the enemy is pursued and attacked. When captured, the unfortunate foes end up on the stake, get their feet sprinkled with salt and have it licked off by goats and other domesticated animals. The list goes on and on.

One very persistent misconception is that each and every Indian has his faithful and reliable horse. It strayed to him from the nearly infinite vastness of the prairie and ever since he rides it through thick and thin, eventually even being able to do all kinds of flashy and fancy stuff like riding backwards, hanging down on one side to dodge opposing arrows and bullets or even riding at full speed while standing on the horses back. While it is true that experienced riders have learned those kind of tricks after years of strenous training, the cliché of Indian and horse belonging together like fist and glove is plain wrong. The truth is that for thousands of years Indian tribes had to manage without horses as they had died out a long time ago according to prehistoric findings.[1]

As the living conditions are quite diverse in the United States in general and even the Great Plains, the area I am going to look at closer in particular, it is only normal that without a horse as mean of transportation, war and, yes, even source for food, the different tribes had to use different strategies and ways to fight their way through life. Some have been hunters, some simply took what nature offered them and the next even errected their own fields and grew fruits and vegetables on them. The bottom line is: Hunting for buffalo in great numbers, raiding other tribes or attacking white settlers has only been the Indian way of life for less than 200 years and additionally, there have been great differences between the tribes. In my paper I have chosen the Blackfoot, the Cheyenne and the Comanches as examples for tribes who have followed different paths once they acquired the services of the horse.

Even though all three tribes have been living in the Great Plains area, their ways of acquiring the horse and also how they eventually used it could not have been any more diverse. Thus my goal to show in this paper is to point out just how the horse has influenced and even changed the culture of the different tribes.

2. Overview

When we are looking at the way the horse has changed the culture of the Indian tribes, it is at first absolutely necessary to get a general understanding of the term “culture”. Webster dictionary gives the following definition:

Main Entry: 1cul·ture

Pronunciation: 'kΛl-chər

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin cultura, from cultus, past participle

Date: 15th century

2 : the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education
3 : expert care and training <beauty culture
4 a : enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training b : acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
5 a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon man's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a company or corporation
6 : cultivation of living material in prepared nutrient media; also : a product of such cultivation[2]

Encyclopædia Britannica adds:

behaviour peculiar to Homo sapiens, together with material objects used as an integral part of this behaviour. Thus, culture includes language, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, and ceremonies, among other elements.[3]

The most important matches here are “skills” and “knowledge” in my opinion. Even though the horse made an impact on language (new words for the different kinds of horses as well as its’ body parts had to be found), customs (e.g. horses were often made presents to relatives and future fathers-in-law) and art (see the beautiful painting on the cover page for example), those areas of life had not nearly been touched as much as “skills” and “knowledge”.

Now they had to learn how to treat horses, how to equip them for riding, how to catch wild horses, etc. and they had to realize that the country they knew was not that infinite after all as they now had the possibility to travel greater distances in a much shorter amount of time. Additionally it even changed their conception of the world to a degree as they now got to know a second animal (besides the dog) that according to the medicine men did not possess any supernatural powers[4] and therefore did not have any meaning in the religious life at all.

Bearing that in mind, the next question that arises is just how did the horses actually end up on the American continent again, after they had allegedly died out a long time ago, and how did the Indian tribes first get in contact with them. The answer can once again be found in Jürgen Döring’s “Kulturwandel bei den nordamerikanischen Plainsindianern“: It was Columbus who brought the first horses to the “New World” on his second trip in 1493. Precisely it had been 25 horses he brought to Hispaniola, today one of the West Indian Islands. In the years to come, each and every ship that left Spain for the Caribbean took stallions and, for breeding purposes, mares with them. In the years up until 1520 a vivid stockbreeding took place on the islands of Cuba, Santo Domingo, Jamaica and Haiti, among the stock was a good amount of horses as well. Those animals made up the foundation for the export of horses to the North American mainland.

The reason for the Spaniards’ venture from central Mexico to the North were the rich silver mines they expected in the northern parts of the country. To put those mines into operation, a large number of horses and mules were brought North where they were either stolen by the Indians or being gifted to them by the Spaniards as an act of pacifism (here it should be mentioned that the Spaniards tried to use the Indians as slave workers in their silver mines which did not work very well so they had every reason to pacify them). The close contact to horses as well as the use of sattles, headgear, etc. made it possible for hunting tribes like the Apaches who regularly attended trade meetings to learn the dealing with horses. It is supposed that during the 70 years between 1600 and 1670, hundreds if not even thousands of horses have fallen into the hands of the Apaches through various raids.[5]

Even though the Apaches had been nomads before the arrival of the Spaniards on the North American continent, they had also been active in farming.

After New Mexico became a Spanish colony in 1598, numerous clashes with the Apaches who inhabited that area before, were inevitable. This way they were literally forced to fight and as they were moving further and further away from the buffalo herds, the Apaches had to get hold of food through raids and plundering.[6]

The Apaches as one of the first tribes to get in contact with horses are an example for a relatively peaceful tribe which was forced to become an aggressor because of the new circumstances. I will now take a closer look at the development of the Blackfoot, Cheyenne and Comanches. I will begin with the Blackfoot, as they, simlilar to the Apaches had also been a tribe of nomads.

3.1. Blackfoot

Before going into the detail of cultural change, it is important to realize the living conditions not only the Blackfoot but also the Cheyenne and the Comanches were living under. All three tribes were and for what is left of them are still living on the Great Plains, an extensive grassland region on the continental slope of central North America. The Plains extend from the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba south through the Western central United States into Western Texas. In the United States the Plains include parts of North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas (see also enclosed map).

The climate in the Plains is not homogenous. Because of limited rainfall, the conditions in the Western and Southern areas are almost desert-like. The climate there has led to the creation of the so-called “Badlands”. In the East of the Great Plains, the Mississippi-Missouri-region, more humid conditions prevail as this region is being occupied by prairies. Forest stands can only be found in the valleys of the rivers which run from West to East.[7]


[1] see “Kulturwandel bei den nordamerikanischen Plainsindianern“, p. 23

[2] see

[3] see

[4] see “Kulturwandel bei den nordamerikanischen Plainsindianern“, p. 187

[5] see “Kulturwandel bei den nordamerikanischen Plainsindianern“, p. 23-26

[6] see “Apachen“. Encarta Enzyklopädie 2003.

[7] see “Great Plains“. Encarta Enzyklopädie 2003.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Native American Horse Culture: Looking at the change in culture the horse brought to the Blackfoot, Cheyenne and Comanche tribes.
University of Potsdam  (Anglistics and American Studies)
"Voices From The Gap": Contemporary Native American Fiction
2,0 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
754 KB
Native, American, Horse, Culture, Looking, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Voices, From, Contemporary, Native, American, Fiction
Quote paper
Tim Leidecker (Author), 2003, Native American Horse Culture: Looking at the change in culture the horse brought to the Blackfoot, Cheyenne and Comanche tribes., Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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